Country and Western is the one of the biggest selling genres of music in the United States and while the UK has had its fair share of talented country artists, we’ve yet to find our very own Kenny and Dolly – until now.
When first hearing The Shires, you’ll assume they’re from the U.S with the American twang on the vocals, the perfect harmonies, and the heartfelt lyrics that spin the tales of love, heartbreak, and “getting drunk on a Friday night”. However, this country duo hail from England’s very own Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire – hence the name, The Shires.
Made up of songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Ben Earle and vocalist Crissie Rhodes, the duo met on Facebook two years ago and have since supported Tom Jones on tour, played at the renowned Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, supported Carrie Underwood at the Apple Music Festival London, and have become the first ever UK Country act to break into the UK album chart Top 10 with their debut album ‘Brave’.
They’re about to embark on their headline UK tour in October, before they head over to the U.S and Canada to support Little Big Town in November. Early next year, The Shires will also support Ireland’s The Corrs on their first tour of the UK in ten years.
The Shires are performing on Graham Norton on BBC1 on Friday 2nd October, 2015. They will release their new single “I Just Want to Love You” on 30th October.
Anna Ridley talks to Crissie Rhodes about the success of The Shires so far, their forthcoming tours, and how it feels to bring home-grown country music to life in the UK.
You’ve had a pretty good year so far, how’s everything going?
It’s been a mental year for us but so great out on the road. We just seem to have done so much in such a short amount of time, but it’s been a lot of fun.
You’ve been performing just a couple of years, and have only known each other since then, how has your relationship grown since the beginning?
The two of us have known each other two years now. It seems that everything has been happening really quickly and I guess it has since we’ve been together, but individually we were both working the hard graft before meeting one another. Ben was a strong songwriter and guitarist and had supported some great artists, and myself, I was gigging as a wedding singer and doing session singing as well. We’re kind of rounded because we’ve done a lot of hard work to bring us to where we are now. Since we’ve met each other, it’s been like fate and it’s happened so organically. We put in so much hard work before and there’s still so much hard work ahead of us, but we absolutely love every single day that comes our way.
How has your relationship grown and developed since the beginning?
We get on really well, and we’re together all the time. We have a great relationship. We didn’t know each other when we first met and it wasn’t until we went to Nashville – and we’d already signed our record deal by this point – that we asked each other “Who are you?”.
The two of us are really honest with each other and if anything bothers us we say it straight away and it clears any problems. We’ve never had a fight or fallen out, and if we have small disagreements, they’re resolved quickly. We absolutely love what we do and we both have the same minds, in that we both love country music and that’s what we want to do. We also have a lot of other people on the road with us so there’s a lot of banter and fun between us all.
“Over here in the UK it’s almost been something you don’t tell anyone about, like some sort of guilty pleasure. But now, people are saying “I like country music”, and they’re really proud to enjoy it.”
You’ve had the only top 10 country album by a British band, what’s the reaction been of the British public with regards to country music sung by a British couple?
The British public have been so excited. For a long time we’ve enjoyed country music and I feel that over here in the UK it’s almost been something you don’t tell anyone about, like some sort of guilty pleasure. But now, people are saying “I like country music”, and they’re really proud to enjoy it.
When people listen to our music they think we’re straight out of Nashville which is a great compliment. But, hopefully our lyrical content tells them differently.
We did record the album out in Nashville because we wanted that “Nashville sound” but we wanted to retain our Britishness because we are English and we wanted to keep true to that sound as well.
“The whole Nashville scene is just the coolest place. You can all go out to a bar one night and then end up having writing sessions for the next couple of days.”
You’re the first ever British country act to be signed to a major Nashville label and you recorded your album over there, how have you fit into the local scene and have you been embraced by Nashville and it’s country scene?
They’ve been very welcoming. It’s very cosmopolitan over there now and there are so many people that live there. While it’s a magnet for country people, there are also many other genres of music that exist within Nashville.
We were really embraced over there. We played The Grand Ole Opry which was our debut in June and to hear the audience applaud the way that they did was amazing and they giggled at some of our lyrics in “Nashville Grey Skies”. We also played a songwriters round where songwriters will write a song in the daytime and perform it in the evening in a bar. One of the songwriters we were working with invited us along to join him and it was great because the audience really listen to the lyrics. They were laughing when we were singing “Made in England” because they got the idea of what we’re all like here in the UK.
We played acoustically when we were gigging in Nashville and then when we recorded the album we had all Nashville players, who were all absolutely incredible. The whole Nashville scene is just the coolest place. You can all go out to a bar one night and then end up having writing sessions for the next couple of days. The musicians were incredible. They listened to the song once in the control room and they had a numbering system which the drummer had chartered out and worked to get the right sound. They literally went into the studio all at once and you would have thought they had it at the first take, but they were so specific about what they wanted and they would each drop in at different parts. It was a really old school way of recording. I don’t think many records are made that way anymore.
Did you get a chance to enjoy Nashville away from the studio?
Well we’ve been there a couple of times now. We did a week of writing, a week of recording the album, and another week for our Opry debut, but a week at a time just isn’t long enough. We didn’t get to go to the Bluebird café or do any of the touristy places; there just wasn’t time. If we weren’t writing, we were performing in the evenings, and if we weren’t performing, we were in bars meeting other songwriters- it was so much fun.
You’ve supported Tom Jones, played at Glastonbury, and played at The Grand Ole Opry, what has been your highlight of 2015 so far?
We both enjoyed Country 2 Country festival this year. It was a really big moment for us and the first time that we released our debut album. There was just so much excitement around the whole festival and we got to play in the main arena. We got to meet Charles from Lady Antebellum who is a huge idol of ours and we met so many other country stars including Kip Moore and Sam Hunt. To be among those people was a dream come true for us. Of course the Opry was great too. The fact that we’d been invited to perform on that stage so early on in our career and be introduced by Bill Anderson was just so crazy. There have been so many things that have happened this year that we cannot believe and we’re still pinching ourselves every day.
You’re off on a UK tour next month, which places are you particularly excited about?
We start in our home town of Bedford and that’s the first date to kick off the tour so all of our friends and family will be there. We’re excited to be heading to Inverness because we’ve never been that far up to the top of Scotland. Also, Shepherd’s Bush because that’s a venue the two of us have always wanted to play and we’ve actually sold it out – 2,000 tickets, gone. That’s the last night of the tour so it will be a big finish and a great way to end it.
You’ll be supporting Little Big Town this November across the U.S and Canada, you must be excited.
We love Little Big Town. They’re so talented and they make a great sound. They’re absolutely professional at what they do and they’re so seasoned. We’re looking forward to being back on the road with them.
If there was to be a UK country capital, where do you see it happening?
Country is really big in Ireland and Scotland, but in England it’s rising and getting a bit of ground swell. It would have to be somewhere in the middle, like Manchester.
October UK Tour:
Thursday 1st October – Bedford Corn Exchange, Bedford
Friday 2nd October – The Lyric Theatre, Carmarthen
Sunday 4th October – Glee Club, Cardiff
Monday 5th October – Exeter Phoenix, Exeter
Tuesday 6th October – Pyramid Centre, Portsmouth
Thursday 8th October – Leas Cliff Hall Theatre, Folkestone
Saturday 10th October – Ironworks, Inverness
Sunday 11th October – Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh
Monday 12th October – Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
Wednesday 14th October – Empire, Middlesbrough
Thursday 15th October – The Leadmill, Sheffield
Friday 16th October – Roadmender, Northampton
Sunday 18th October – The Institute, Birmingham
Monday 19th October – O2 Academy Liverpool, Liverpool
Tuesday 20th October – Cambridge Junction, Cambridge
Thursday 22nd October – Bath Pavilion, Bath
Saturday 24th October – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
Little Big Town Support Tour:
Nov 12th – Adams Centre, Missoula, Montana
Nov 13th – Taco Bell Arena, Boise, Idaho
Nov 14th – Keller Auditorium, Portland, Oregon
Nov 19th – Abbottsford Centre, Abbotsford, Canada
Nov 20th – Paramount Theatre, Seattle, Washington
Nov 21st – INB Performing Arts Center – Spokane, Washington
Coors Support Tour – January 2016
Tue 19th BIRMINGHAM, Genting Arena
Wed 20th CARDIFF, Motorpoint Arena
Fri 22nd LIVERPOOL, Echo Arena
Sat 23rd LONDON, 02 Arena
Sun 24th MANCHESTER, Manchester Arena
Tue 26th GLASGOW, Hydro
Thu 28th DUBLIN, 3 Arena*
Fri 29th BELFAST, The SSE Arena*
Buy the album ‘Brave’ here.